Rep. Trey Radel’s arrest inspires a brilliant idea: Let’s drug-test members of Congress!

Petula Dvorak
Columnist November 21, 2013

Rep. Trey Radel voted in favor of drug-testing the folks who get food stamps.

In that case, why don’t we drug-test all people who get federal money? Let’s start with members of Congress!

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Radel, the Florida Republican whose campaign was heavy on balancing the budget, would be the first to save the government some money on that plan.

The 37-year-old congressman who describes himself on Twitter as a “Hip Hop Conservative” — whatever that is — lasted just 10 months in the nation’s capital before his Nose Snow Rewards Card balance tripped the radar of law enforcement.

He was busted last month after buying $250 worth of cocaine from a federal agent. And it apparently wasn’t his first time on this particular sleigh ride.

Radel was described in charging documents as a routine buyer in Dupont Circle, purchasing for himself and for his pals. He pleaded guilty in D.C. Superior Court this week, was sentenced to a year of probation and announced a leave of absence.

Ho-hum. Nothing new, politics and drugs. Thanks to former D.C. mayor Marion Barry and Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, we can mention more than just weed in this list. And the roll call of politicians who’ve admitted to smoking pot — whether they inhaled or not — is too huge to tackle in this space.

Radel, a former TV reporter and conservative radio gabber, isn’t an aberration when it comes to using coke. About 1.6 million Americans admitted to being regular cocaine users in a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration last year.

The same survey said that about 1,800 try cocaine for their first time every day. It’s not just boxy boyfriend blazers that are coming back from the ’80s.

Plus, Radel was described as an energetic new lawmaker who was quickly making a name for himself on Capitol Hill. And he’s got a 2-year-old at home. Who couldn’t use a little coke to stay wired?

Radel’s drug use isn’t even his worst transgression. It’s attaining a level of hypocrisy that usually takes politicians years — decades — to achieve.

This is a guy whose campaign ads lambasted “typical politicians.”

“Washington’s full of them,” he lamented.

He said he’d bring American values to Washington, “Values that come with integrity, especially when we talk about cuts.” Like, the kind you make with a razor blade, Hip Hop Man?

Seriously — this is a guy who preaches about the dysfunction in Washington, and then look at what he does once he gets to Our Town.

The tea party darling is one of the Republicans who voted in favor of a devastating $39 billion cut to the nation’s food stamp program and later voted for another bill requiring mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipients.

Yup, in Radel’s version of Absurdistan, it’s totally okay for a guy in a suit to use coke and collect a government paycheck, but a single mom who needs help buying milk for her kids has to be drug-tested before she gets one government dime.

Drug-testing food stamp and welfare recipients is a mean-spirited, political potshot at our nation’s most vulnerable families. And it doesn’t work.

In Utah, from August 2012 to July, the state spent more than $30,000 testing nearly 5,000 welfare applicants for drug use. The haul? Twelve people.

The same thing was tried in Florida, where drug tests cost the state more money than was saved. Those tests turned up more positives than in Utah. (Come on, it’s Florida!) There, about 100 of 4,000 recipients tested dirty. Maybe Radel was a ringer, taking that test to increase the numbers and bolster his spending cuts.

Why, exactly, don’t we require a drug test for our lawmakers?

They get paid by the taxpayers. They make important decisions. I’m sure the electronic voting machines they use to cast their yeas and nays count as heavy machinery. Or the members-only elevator does.

In America, if you stack apples, cut meat, pitch a baseball, carry a weapon, drive a forklift, answer phones, sweep streets or do any number of other jobs, you’ve got to pee in a cup to assure your employer that you are drug-free and worthy of the job.

The Partnership at Drugfree.org estimated that 84 percent of employers in America drug-test their employees. Why don’t we hold our members of Congress to the same standards?

I’m not alone in thinking this. Go to petitiononline.com, find the petition to drug-test members of Congress and read the comments of people angry about the consistent double standard that politicians live by.

If we tested everyone in Congress at an average cost of $40 a test, the bill would be about $21,400. And even if Radel was the only one (ha!) who tested positive for drugs, the taxpayers would come out ahead by withholding his $174,000 salary.

You were right, congressman Radel. Drug testing is an excellent idea.

Just make sure you target the right people.

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